Changing Federal Standards

As a follow up to our Director of Law Reform’s appearance on CTV’s Your Morning, we want to outline some upcoming legislative changes at the Federal level. While unpaid internships that are not part of school programs may be declining in Ontario’s provincially regulated sectors, additional standards are necessary to protect federally regulated interns.


Although most employees are provincially regulated, if you work in certain industries like banking or telecommunications, you are likely covered by federal standards.

In 2017, we successfully pushed for changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act that ensure interns are entitled to minimum wage and standard hours unless they fall within the student exception.

In late 2017, we finally changed the Federal Government’s position. While the Liberals initially proposed legislation in 2015 that would have prevented interns from accessing basic employment standards, we successfully opposed the problematic legislation. Now, the Federal Government has introduced standards similar to Ontario’s legislation; the new federal standards guarantee interns minimum wage unless they perform an internship as part of a formal school program. While the new federal standards are not yet in force, the Federal Government expects that they will come into force in 2019.

Improving Federal Standards

The Federal Government is proposing two further changes to labour standards that would affect interns.

First, under Bill C-65, sexual harassment provisions in the Canada Labour Code are moving from Part III (Standard Hours, Wages, Vacations and Holidays) to Part II (Occupation Health and Safety). Section 123(3) of the Canada Labour Code currently provides that Part II applies to “any person who is not an employee but who performs for an employer to which this Part applies activities whose primary purpose is to enable the person to acquire knowledge or experience.” This means that if Bill C-65 passes, interns (even those performing unpaid school internships) will be protected from sexual harassment under the Canada Labour Code.

Second, in the 2017 budget (see page 64), the Federal Government committed to regulating maximum hours of work, weekly days of rest and general holidays for unpaid school internships. The current lack of restrictions on hours of work is troubling given the death of interns like Aaron Murray and Andy Ferguson, both of whom fell asleep at the wheel after working an unpaid overnight shift. Regulations that would close this gap and protect interns are expected in 2019.

The Problem With Unpaid School Internships

These changes are important, but there is room for improvement.

School internship programs often present the opportunity for a great learning experience. Instead of fetching coffee, interns have the opportunity to develop practical skills. Yet, that experience comes at a cost. Interns must now pay to work.

Student internships that fall under federal jurisdiction should be subject to minimum wage laws. Each year, students perform countless hours of unpaid work as a requirement of their college or university programs. Reports of students performing work that would otherwise be performed by employees raises concerns about the appropriateness of unpaid placements. Most federal sector employers can afford to pay those who intern for them; these employers are often major banks and telecommunications companies, not small businesses.

The University of Waterloo’s co-operative education model offers a better alternative – students can learn while they earn. Learn more about the University of Waterloo’s model here.

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